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Is cold Modernism misunderstood art?

March 29, 2007

Re "Where Modernism hit a brick wall," Opinion, March 24

Nathan Glazer's article touches on a deep social and psychological rift mirrored in the split between Modernism and traditional styles in contemporary architecture. Modernism, and the culture it represents, offers excitement but precious little reassurance or sense of community. In fact, Modernism's decline from an ideology dedicated to making a more just and populist society -- becoming the frenzy of stylistic maneuvers we see in today's avant-garde designers -- underscores a failure to redefine the entire notion of community in contemporary culture. It touches on the profoundly unsettling notion that the whole concept of community as we've known it for millenniums may have simply been negated by the onrush of our fragmented urban scene -- electric with opportunity, dynamic with possibility but essentially lonely and individualistic.

LEON WHITESON

Los Angeles

The writer is an architect and architecture critic.

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I recall the day of a warm and friendly handshake with architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This giant of architecture demonstrates why Modernism has hit a brick wall. Wright wholeheartedly practiced what to me seemed logical -- not a departure from the elegance of ages past but a definitive variance without abandoning the spirit of tradition. My own glass-and-steel home by Raphael Soriano is a valid representative of that. Multitudes of visitors have expressed, when observing my personally designed landscaping from the interior, "What a wonderful, beautiful garden." It took prominence over the austerity of steel and glass. To our public who cast their preference for Classicism, would their votes have been cast differently if their confrontation with cold and barren structures had been decoratively modified away from Glazer's brick wall?

JULIUS SHULMAN

Los Angeles

The writer is an architectural photographer whose images currently reside at the Getty Institute.

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I have no doubt that Glazer is a deep thinker, but his surprise over the preference of "most Americans" for traditional styles only underscores the fact that art is elitist. What is really surprising is Glazer's failure to recognize this dynamic and not be surprised by Americans' failure to embrace the future. Personally, I love to look at and walk around in Modernist buildings, especially private homes, but I do not want to live in them. They are cold and uncomfortable -- but they look great in magazines. After all, who wants to live in an airport?

JOHN DECESARE

Los Angeles

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